In Praise of the Thrift Store Tee

On falling back in love with the easy comfort of a cotton T

Like everyone else, I went through many fashion phases as a teenager – trying on as many personalities as hats as I looked for a style that I could call my own. The look that stuck around the longest (although I wouldn't necessarily call it “style”) was the skater uniform: baggy jeans held up with a sliding buckle cub-scout belt, an oversized logo Tee, thrown together with a waist-hitting hoodie or zip sweatshirt.

Much as my parents hated it, the skater look fit me well because it allowed me to cover up my burgeoning body. The clothes moved with me as I skated with friends or snowboarded down the snow-covered molehills around my house in the mountain-less Midwest. And they let the boys around me know I was no poser looking for attention – vital in the days when Claire Danes' Angela Chase was dyeing her hair and desperate to catch Jordan Catalano's eye.   

At some point, though, I grew up and traded my too-big clothing for a more polished, professional weekday look; even my loungewear went adult as I adopted yoga leggings and no-logo sweatshirts. I tucked the T-shirts and jeans into a cardboard box in the basement, saved for Halloween costumes or for my nephews, should the 90s skater look ever come back in style.

Reliving a not-too-wild youth

And of course they came back in style. Designer names might change but the fashion world is always inspired by its past and a few years ago, we saw that in the revival of logoed concert tees – à la Gucci meets Guns N' Roses. Uber-popular in Denmark, the T-shirts were made to look worn but the women adorning them looked anything but. Paired with leather leggings or a tulle skirt and motorcycle boots, the tees took on a different meaning than they had in my hometown, where Harley-Davidson has its headquarters and the mullet is adorned unironically.

At first I snubbed the trend: Did I really want to be taking my fashion cues from my metalhead brother, while paying twice as much for a T-shirt as he had done for a concert thirty years ago? Did I like Mötley Crüe enough to do their advertising for them?

Rockin’ Out at the Little Mermaid (c) Courtney Tenz

Rockin’ Out at the Little Mermaid (c) Courtney Tenz

In other words, I was thinking too much about what would be a fun, passing trend, one that let middle-aged women like me relive their not-too-wild youth. I regretted throwing away the neon-green-lettered Poison T-shirt I took home as a souvenir from my first rock concert. But, I remedied that almost immediately at a flea market, where I found a never-worn Kiss concert tee for three Euros. Taking a scissors to the sleeves and the ring collar, I made the look my own – slightly slashed, slightly sexy. And I fell back in love with the easy comfort of a tee.

Keeping the look going

Although the concert tee is getting as much wear in the fashion world this season, I've become a fan of the soft cotton feel and silly irony of sliding on a tee with a message, nonsensical though it may be. So on my last trip to the US, I popped into the Goodwill on a near-daily basis to ruffle through the men's L/XL section. And though camouflage and beer logos are still the most popular styles to donate, I found a few fun tees to spice up my loungewear.


Like this one with a timely message from Napoleon Dynamite:

I guess it proves that no matter what your age, you're never too old for a great thrift store tee.

**Cues Macklemore**

-Courtney Tenz